Duke Energy Indiana has decided to shut down its dirty, economically unjustified coal fired plant in New Albany by June 1, a year earlier than they originally planned in their 2018 Integrated Resource Plan.
According to company sources, the transmission related infrastructure at the plant will remain in place while Duke decides on the site’s future. There will still be operations to close down the massive coal ash facilities where coal combustion waste has been stored next to the Ohio River for nearly sixty years.
Duke will continue to operate its Gibson and Edwardsport coal plants in Gibson and Knox Counties in SW Indiana until at least 2028. Duke Energy Indiana serves customers in sixty-nine central Indiana Counties but built most of its generation capacity in southern section of the state.
Gallagher will soon join a number of other southern Indiana power plants in closing that include Tanners Creek in Lawrenceburg (I&M), Ratts in Petersburg (Hoosier Energy), a couple of units at Petersburg (IPL), and several slated to close this decade. These closures are good news for Hoosiers who have been forced to breathe fouled air from the emissions of those power plants for a half century. It remains to be known what impact these closures will have on tax revenue in the Counties where they are located.
Cars drive along the Golden Gate Bridge under an orange, smoke-filled sky in the middle of the day as massive wildfires burned in Northern California on Sept. 12. Scientists are concerned that wildfire smoke contains microbes that can cause illness. (Harold Postic / AFP/ Getty Images)
When wildfires roar through a forest and bulldozers dig into the earth to stop advancing flames, they may be churning more into the air than just clouds of dust and smoke, scientists say.
Those dark, billowing plumes of smoke that rise on waves of heat during the day and sink into valleys as the night air cools may be transporting countless living microbes that can seep into our lungs or cling to our skin and clothing,according to research published recently in Science. In some cases, researchers fear that airborne pathogens could sicken firefighters or downwind residents.
“We were inspired to write this because we recognize that there are many trillions of microbes in smoke that haven’t really been incorporated in an understanding … of human health,” said Leda Kobziar, a University of Idaho associate professor in wildland fire science. “At this point, it’s really unknown. The diversity of microbes that we’ve found are really mind-bending.”
As this recent fire seasons suggests, the need to understand what’s in the wildfire smoke we can’t help but breathe and how it may affect us has never been more pronounced, but scientists say we are seriously behind the curve.
Wildfires burned across more than 10.2 million acres of the United States in 2020, federal statistics show, including some 4.2 million acres in California, where a greater number of residents were exposed to smoke for a longer period of time than ever before.
Wildfire smoke now accounts for up to half of all fine-particle pollution in the Western U.S., according to researchers. Although there are many studies on the long-term impacts to human health from urban air pollution and short-term impacts from wildfire smoke, there’s little known about the multitude of ways the latter can hurt us over a lifetime.
“Frankly, we don’t really know about the long-term effects of wildfire smoke because community exposures haven’t been long-term before,” said Dr. John Balmes, a professor of medicine at UC San Francisco and a member of the California Air Resources Board.
But humans — and Californians in particular — should expect to inhale more wildfire smoke in the future.
Add to those trends a global pandemic that attacks the respiratory system, and microbe-filled fire smoke every year could be considered a growing health risk, researchers say. They wonder whether microbes in wildfire smoke could make cancer patients more vulnerable to infections or make children with asthma more prone to developing pneumonia.
Scientists believe some microbes survive and even proliferate in wildfire, where heat scorches the ground and leaves behind a layer of carbon that shields microbes within the earth from intense heat. Others survive in the air because wildfire particulates can absorb the sun’s otherwise lethal ultraviolet radiation, the scientists said. And still other spores are likely spread on wind currents caused by fire.
Kobziar and study co-author George Thompson III, an associate professor of medicine at UC Davis, said that up until now, the connection between microbes and wildfires has been anecdotal — such as the tendency for wildland firefighters to get sick with Valley fever after working on an incident. The illness is contracted by inhaling spores of the fungi genus Coccidioides.
“We have more questions than answers at this point,” Thompson said. “Our lungs are exposed to pathogens every day we don’t think much of. But [what] if we increase the number of microbes in there with fire?” Continue reading →
We’re told that a world without plastics is impossible to imagine. But 70 years ago, I lived with almost none of it. Modern humans lived without it for almost 200-thousand years. Now it’s plainly an existential threat to all life on Earth. And it’s literally everywhere. It’s impossible to overstate how much plastic surrounds us.
Plastics production began, in earnest, about 1950 and grew quite steadily over the last 70 years to the point that more than 9.1 billion tons of plastic have been made. That’s more than enough to cover Manhattan’s 22.7 square mile area under two miles of plastic waste – a staggering 45 cubic miles of plastic. Until recently, plastics manufacturers haven’t considered where it would all go after its use. Much of it is used less than one minute before carelessly discarded. Plastics aren’t durable, but they simultaneously fail to decompose safely in a timely manner. They all migrate harmful toxins into whatever they contact.
We’re led to think the ‘chasing arrows’ symbol on plastic indicates it’s recyclable and that the number inside the triangles indicates the type of plastic. Both are exaggerations, essentially deceptions. The chemical makeup of all plastic types varies between manufacturers. There is no standard, making the recycling numbers nonspecific for the purposes of recycling. Dave Williamson, an ancient plastic recycler in Berkeley, considers that inconsistency in plastic formulas one type of contamination that hinders recycling because they cannot be mixed without decreasing its value. Another type of contamination comes from the substances that the plastic containers held. In other words, your food gets into the plastic. Conversely, that plastic also gets into your food.
The FDA, which regulates food contact plastics, states that all plastics must meet their standards for migration of toxic chemicals. But FDA regulations are not consistent with current scientific knowledge. They fail to acknowledge that extremely low doses of plastic’s constituent chemicals disturb and injure the endocrine systems of humans and all animals. And the industry is trusted to test its own products, leaving us with little defense and protecting the industry instead. The chemical ingredients of plastics are proprietary information protected by law – trade secrets. The FDA is prohibited from releasing them to the public which makes public research of the toxicity extremely difficult.
Officially, 9% has been recycled, but less than 1% has been recycled more than once. That means it isn’t actually recycled or recyclable. The system of recycling was never meaningfully thought out. Instead it’s merely a tool of waste management that was fraudulently concocted by the industry to impose its responsibilities onto the public. Their burden of waste is placed on the public in terms of tax dollars, land use, environmental damage and depletion, as well as simple aesthetics and healthcare costs. These are enormous burdens on all parts of society. Even academic integrity is severely affected by corporate control through its funding.
Incineration is presently at 12% and rising. The majority, 60% of all plastics ever produced were landfilled or discarded in the natural environment. Plastics recycling is a lie. Biodegradable plastics is an oxymoron because the legal definitions barely consider the massive volumes produced and their toxicity. Quite simply, they don’t biodegrade. Green plastics and the circular economy of plastics are yet more distractions to allow plastics to continue being produced. Bioplastics can be just as toxic as petroleum-based plastics. They have the added burden of being composed of GMO crops such as corn and soy which are products of a vile commercial ag industry that thrives on highly toxic synthetic chemical inputs such as Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide. Bioplastics also fail to fully biodegrade. The key tools of these massive corporations are lies, spin, lobbyists, payoffs, threats, and more lies.Plastic
In the early 1960s, plastic trash floated by me as I sailed the Long Island Sound. In 1974, Dr Edward J. Carpenter wrote about his observations of pelagic plastic in the journal Science. He recently told me that a plastics industry representative visited him at his workplace, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and threatened him and possibly his superiors to discontinue writing about it. In 2001, we learned that there was 6-times more plastic floating plankton in the North Pacific Gyre by weight. The response from regulators was a daft silence.
Twenty years later and conditions are critically worse, both in terms of quantities and how much is known about the harm of these environmental toxicants to all life. Not only has there been no effective action taken in reducing plastics waste and production, there’s considerably more going into the oceans, up into the air and down into the earth. My own opinion is that the production of most or all plastics and synthetic polymers must be halted immediately. If it is made, there is no way to control where it ends up. And the chances of chemically redesigning these plastics to be nontoxic is close to zero. Reducing toxicity could be compared to a Biden presidency to replace Trump’s. Continue reading →
October 10, 2020 – by John Blair, valleywatch.net editor
This night picture of the experimental plant built in China shows it as part of a much larger petroleum refinery complex. Because of its proximity to the conventional refinery, it is likely that instead of coal, it uses petroleum coke, a refining waste as feedstock. In any case, such a plant, lit up to feign daylight on the ground will permanently alter the bucolic life of those who currently live in Dale. Photo credit:Unknown.
Valley Watch and Southwest Indiana Citizens For Quality of Life (NOC2D) have remained active during 2020 in our efforts to keep the ridiculous proposal for a Coal to Diesel plant from being constructed in Dale. Of course, the Covid Pandemic has slowed life as usual but our efforts remain strong and we predict success in stopping the plant in the end.
Surely, you remember in 2017 when Riverview Energy made its original pitch to County leaders and the word on the Street was, “This is a done deal!” And although many of the details surrounding the plant were (and still are) kept secret, our groups have collectively managed to analyze the economics, emissions and overall viability of building and operating such a costly and polluting plant in the bucolic town of Dale. Dale’s Town Board bought into the plant with stars in their eyes over the promised tax revenue a $2.5 billion plant would bring.
But here is the thing. This plant will only be built by defying all the odds.
First, is its stated cost. Did you know that Riverview is still using the same cost figures they used when they went to Vermillion County in 2010. In depositions, Riverview said the proposal in Spencer is identical to the one first proposed for Vermillion. And it should be noted that after nearly seven years there, Vermillion County officials tired of Riverview’s empty promises and politely told them to go elsewhere. Do Riverview’s financial experts claim there has been zero inflation since 2010?
Second, Riverview has claimed that financing for the project is just around the corner but have shown no evidence that their project will meet even the most liberal criteria for what will ultimately be closer to $4 billion. We do know that it DOES NOT qualify for current loan guarantees from the Federal Government since they refuse to capture and properly dispose of the enormous carbon dioxide emissions they will create.
Third, Riverview is a “start-up” company. They are not an established Exxon, Apple or Amazon that can finance such a large project out of pocket. In fact, their owner and President, Mr. Merle admitted in sworn testimony that he had zero experience in the manufacturing, construction, or operating anything, let alone what could turn out to be the third largest project ever undertaken in Indiana. Indeed, his previous experience was tutoring rich kids to take the SAT test-a business which I might add failed.
Fourth, there are only two of these facilities built in the entire world. One is in communist China and one in Russia, both of which are dictatorships with very limited environmental regulation. Of course, Merle also says he has been to neither but expects his money people to accept that as good business practice. USA environmental rules will significantly add to the cost of such a facility but Riverview does not seem to understand that fact or perhaps their plan is to simply ignore even the loose conditions of their construction permit which our groups have challenged, so far winning on at least one count where IDEM ignored their own public participation rules to issue.
Fifth, we are now living in a carbon constrained world. The international coal industry is on its last leg and the transportation fleet, including shipping are seeking alternatives to diesel fuel and naphtha
This list of reasons is almost endless but consider this. Riverview has a ten year history of promising things they simply can’t or won’t deliver. And, although they have had the support of County and economic development officials in Spencer County, nothing changes the fact that no one in their right mind is going to loan someone with zero experience, billions of dollars to build something that may have made sense in the early 20th Century but is nothing but a failed technology for a carbon conscious society in 2020.
Thus, I ask, when are Spencer County and Dale leaders going to follow the action of those in Vermillion County and tell Riverview that they are tired of continual division in their community and that it is time for him to put up or shut up. Riverview claims to control the land they have chosen and they have already had almost seventeen months since acquiring permission to begin construction but have actually done NOTHING to make that happen.
Officials need to ask what is the status of their land options? What is the status of the Front End Engineering and Design? What is the factual status of Riverview’s financing and who is providing that? Where is Riverview going to get their process water and who is paying for the infrastructure to get it to the site? Where is Riverview going to dispose of both its solid and liquid waste and what will that consist of? What kind of Federal, State and County taxpayer subsidies is Riverview asking Hoosiers to make?
If Riverview refuses or does not want to publicly disclose the answers to these and other pertinent questions, then everyone in Spencer County should tell them to hit the road and allow the whole community to reunite to achieve the progress they so rightly deserve.
Spencer County already has the dubious distinction of being one of the most toxic polluted communities on earth, ranking in the top 25 in the US while sporting a population around 20,000. Illustration credit BlairPhotoEVV
July 7, 2020 – by John Blair. valleywatch.net editor
Prior to proposing a multi billion dollar Coal to Diesel refinery in Dale, Merle’s only job was tutoring high schoolers on the SAT test.
Of course anyone can file a complaint in court against anyone. But I find it interesting that recently a complaint was filed alleging fraud on the part of Riverview Energy and its President, Gregory Merle in the Southern District of New York. This is the man and company that some Spencer County officials and many in State government yearn to locate a preposterous Coal To Diesel plant in Dale. Read for yourself. SDNY Complaint
March 24, 2020 – By John Blair, valleywatch.net editor
It’s been nearly two years since then head of LincolnLand Economic Development Corp., Tom Utter promised citizens of Dale that Riverview Energy would conduct an “open forum” where residents could ask questions of plant sponsors. Now, twenty-three months later, neither LEDC nor Riverview has conducted any such forum even though repeated requests for such a session have been made by the public.
In the meantime, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) has issued a construction permit for the massive refinery which will permanently light up the night sky for miles around, forever altering life as we know it in Dale. It should be noted that already the judge hearing the appeal filed by Valley Watch and SW Indiana Citizens For Quality of Life found that IDEM issued a permit to pollute without following Indiana rules for public participation. IDEM refused to share information with citizens about the refinery prior to the hearing held December 5, 2018, even though the groups had filed formal “Public Records Requests” for that information as early as June 2018.
So, we have a corporation, Riverview, which desires to operate in secrecy being backed by a government, IDEM, that wants things opaque and out of the hands of the citizens who will be most impacted by a totally experimental venture.
It should also be noted there are only two of these experiments operating anywhere in the World. One in China and one is Russia. Neither of those plants have any public records of emissions and according to the IDEM permit reviewer, were not even in operation when the permit was issued. It is also probable that neither of those refineries even uses coal as a feedstock so even if emissions data was available, which it is not, that data would not be reflective of using coal as a feedstock.
This night picture of the experimental plant built in China shows it as part of a much larger petroleum refinery complex. Because of its proximity to the conventional refinery, it is likely that instead of coal, it uses petroleum coke, a refining waste as feedstock. Photo credit: News China
It’s not only emissions, including known cancer-causing chemicals, that concern locals because there are serious safety issues that also need to be addressed before the first spade of earth is turned to construct the plant.
Among those safety questions is how will emergencies at the refinery be handled and by whom. We know that the sponsors claim they will produce 105,000,000 gallons of naphtha annually. FYI, naphtha is the primary ingredient used in cigarette “lighter fluid,” a chemical that can easily ignite with a single spark.
Consider this. A single day’s production of naphtha at the refinery will equal almost 287,671 gallons. Every drop of that is highly explosive and if a single day’s production was all that would ever be on the site, please imagine the fireball that would rise from Dale if it were to ignite either accidentally or as an act of terror. Such an explosion would rattle windows as far away as Jasper and level the Town of Dale.
Add to that, the resulting fire from the slower burning daily output of diesel fuel-552,328 gallons, a fire might burn for days, even weeks polluting local streams with run-off and filling the air we breathe with noxious fumes jeopardizing everyone downwind.
As good as it currently is, the Carter Township Fire Department, would not be able to fight such a disaster. To do so would require the assistance of first responders from maybe 100 miles around, leaving those communities vulnerable to reduced protection.
You might say, “But, John, you paint the worst-case scenario for a disaster.” You would be right. But consider this. The President of the Riverview has zero experience in building and operating a giant multi-billion dollar experimental refinery. In fact, prior to his appointment as President of Riverview, his only professional experience was tutoring high school students for their SAT tests to gain college entrance. That seems unqualified to me.
To recap: Riverview has a novice managing construction and operation of a plant that will be handling some of the most explosive material on the planet. They have chosen secrecy about nearly every facet of their proposal, including actual emissions, financing, and other questions of significance. Further, the regulatory body that is supposed to protect us, issued a permit without answering legitimate and legal questions further increasing secrecy of the permitting process. This plant will be a giant public safety risk handling enormous quantities of combustible material but citizens are left in the dark as to how those risks will be mitigated.
BOTTOM LINE: Spencer and Dubois residents are expected to shut up and go along with something that will permanently alter their lives and present huge risks to their health both near and long term. Why? So a man from Connecticut who has zero experience can seek to make a fortune from an experiment likely to require taxpayer assistance. Are you willing to take that risk?
September 19, 2019 – by John Blair, valleywatch.net editor
Issues with my personal mobility have kept me from posting nature pix from the Valley Watch garden the last couple of years. But something did catch my eye today and I thought I would share it. A glistening blue wasp was working the early blooms of Golden Rod that are bursting forth this week.
July 30, 2019 – by John Blair, valleywatch.net editor
Clifty Creek, built in the middle 1950s may continue operating until 2040 after Ohio legislature gives them giant subsidy.
Madison, Indiana is a beautiful town. It even had a large production movie made about its community spirit last decade entitled “Madison.” And, its home to a wonderful State Park-Clifty Falls. Unfortunately, it succumbed to the lure of jobs in the 1950s and became home to the nefarious Clifty Creek power plant.
Clifty Creek and its “sister” plant in Ohio called Kyger Creek were built with a single purpose in mind-to supply electricity to the now shuttered Portsmouth, OH uranium enrichment plant that was closed shortly after the turn of the Century. But both continued to operate as a “merchant plants” since.
Madison’s riverfront is really cool, except when you try to watch a sunset which is always obscured by the massive plant whether it’s operating or not as it dominates every effort to look west.
Owned by a consortium of Indiana , Kentucky and Ohio utilities, including 44% by AEP, the plant has made major investments in pollution controls around fifteen years ago. (See data in picture above). As a result, numerous efforts by a group of environmentalists, including Valley Watch, CAC, Save the Valley and Hoosier Environmental Council have failed to secure retirement for the ancient plants.
Now, Ohio ratepayers are going to be further enslaved to pay for the uneconomic operation of both Clifty and Kyger Creek plants just to highly subsidize their utility owners, none of which consider those plants in their actual rate bases.
Ohio’s legislation also bailed out some failing nuclear plants owned by First Energy in what has become the worst “socialization of risk-privatization of profit” scheme devised for plants that are not only failing financially but also constitute heavily to disease in all health for those downwind.
Fortunately, a bill that would have prevented Indiana utilities from building new plants to replace aging coal plants failed in the Indiana legislature this year even after the coal industry hired disgraced former EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt to lobby the bill.
The coal-to-diesel plant would emit millions of tons of dangerous pollution using a technology that has never been employed in the U.S.
July11, 2019 – Press Release from Earthjustice
Community groups appealed an air quality permit issued to Riverview Energy Corporation for its proposed construction of a massive coal-to-diesel refinery in Dale, Spencer County, Indiana. Earthjustice worked with Southwestern Indiana Citizens for Quality of Life and ValleyWatch. The proposed refinery, which would be the first of its kind ever built in the United States, would emit dangerous air pollution in a county that already ranks among the worst one percent nationally for toxic releases.
The community groups’ appeal describes how the permit is rife with errors that provide no reassurance to the public that they would be protected from the refinery’s dangerous pollution. The Indiana Department of Environmental Management issued the permit on June 11, 2019.
“This permit is deeply flawed,” said Charles McPhedran an attorney with Earthjustice. “Riverview Energy must not be allowed to site this dangerous project near vulnerable communities, including an elementary school and nursing home.”
“Riverview Energy’s coal-to-diesel refinery is in close proximity to residential homes,” said Mary Hess, President of Southwestern Indiana Citizens for Quality of Life. “This refinery would be adding to several facilities already in our community emitting toxic air pollution. We won’t let our neighborhoods become a sacrifice zone for public health.”
“We have been down this path several times before,” said John Blair, President of ValleyWatch. “None of the prior projects even broke ground due to the horrible economics of coal conversion projects. In the end, Riverview Energy will be little more than a failed ‘get rich quick scheme’ for the sponsors.”
Background: The proposed refinery would use “Veba Combi Cracker” technology, which has never been used before in the United States and is licensed by KBR (the former Halliburton subsidiary), to transform coal into liquid fuels like diesel and naphtha through the process of “hydro-cracking.” This process would require crushing more than two million tons of coal every year and mixing it with toxic additives and heavy gas oil. If built, the refinery would emit massive amounts of hazardous air pollution every year, including known carcinogens like benzene and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, in addition to significant amounts of particulate matter and other pollutants that contribute to asthma. The refinery also would emit more than two million tons of greenhouse gases every year.
June 6, 2019 – by John Blair, valleywatch.net editor
Evansville and Mt. Vernon both get drinking water from the Ohio River. In fact, more than five million US citizens acquire their drinking water from our River.
We are near the end of that 981 mile fresh water pipeline, meaning that what is placed in the River and its tributaries upstream finds its way to our faucets. Today, the government entity responsible for keeping that water quality good, ORSANCO, took a giant step backward and severely relaxed what they called Pollution Control Standards, allowing states that border the River to allow whatever level of pollution they think is appropriate for the profitability of their industrial and municipal polluters.
That means henceforth, Evansville citizens will be forced to drink water intentionally contaminated with who knows what from states like Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky. Unfortunately, many of those states will likely allow far greater levels of a variety of pollutants to be dumped in a River that also serves as a primary recreational venue for thousands of boaters and anglers, both sport and subsistence.
ORSANCO or the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission, has, in the past, been instrumental in significant improvement of the water quality of the River throughout its length and this is the first time in its sixty-one year history that it has formally allowed more pollution to permeate the River.
While, today, we celebrate the D-Day invasion that began the end of WW II, this day might also go down in history as the day Evansville and Mt. Vernon, IN lost a significant asset just so some polluter can enrich themselves at our expense. In a word, Valley Watch believes today’s action is -Disgusting.
PIKETON, OHIO—David and Pam Mills have grown tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and okra on their secluded Appalachian property for about 18 years now. This will be the first year the retired couple doesn’t. They just can’t trust their soil anymore. Not with what’s being built barely a five-minute walk away.
Past the shed and through the gray, bare trees that grow in the backyard, bulldozers and dump trucks are busy scooping tan-colored dirt atop an overlooking hill on a brisk January afternoon. They’re constructing a 100-acre landfill for radioactive waste. The machines are there most days until the sun goes down; David, 60, hasn’t been able to escape their roaring for two years. Wearing a black-and-gray baseball cap, he drives his rusty orange tractor down the hill, against the crunch of dead leaves, to take a closer look. On a short metal fence marking where the Mills property ends, a sign reads, “U.S. PROPERTY, NO TRESPASSING,” in big, bold letters with red, white, and blue borders.
The Department of Energy (DOE) owns what sits on the other side: the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant. The DOE built the 1,200-acre facility, located just outside town of Piketon about an hour’s drive south of Columbus in southcentral Ohio, in 1954, as one of three plants it was using to enrich uranium and develop the country’s nuclear weapons arsenal. Now, the agency is trying to clean it up. The landfill—or “on-site waste disposal cell,” as the department calls it—would extend about 60-feet down and house 2 million tons of low-level radioactive waste comprised of soil, asbestos, concrete, and debris. It’ll be outfitted with a clay liner, a plastic cover layer, and a treatment system for any water that leaches through it. When finished, it will be one of the largest nuclear waste dumps east of the Mississippi.
Waste could begin entering it as soon as this fall.
The Mills have never taken issue with the DOE facility, but they don’t want this landfill. They’d rather see all this junk shipped off to disposal sites in the Southwest, where some low-level waste has already been sent. After all, what if the landfill leaks?
“It’s gonna contaminate everything,” David says, after he shows me how close the landfill sits to his property. “It’s just a matter of time.”
The couple is far from alone in their fears. The 2,000-strong Village of Piketon passed a resolution in August 2017 opposing the landfill. So did the local school district and the Pike County General Health District, where Piketon resides. The rural, low income, and largely white county is home to more than 28,000 people across a number of small towns and cities, some of which have passed their own resolutions against this project. Driving through neighborhoods behind Piketon’s main highway, lawn signs covered in red stating “NO RADIOACTIVE WASTE DUMP in Pike County” can be seen everywhere.“There were a lot of things they didn’t know and a lot of things they didn’t worry about that much, again, in the drive to develop nuclear weapons and to build up the nuclear arsenal. The legacy of that inattention is what we’re dealing with today.” – Edwin Lyman, senior scientist and acting director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Nuclear Safety Project
In January, the Village of Piketon approved the purchase of a $5,000 air quality monitor to track any potential contamination resulting from the landfill’s construction and the cleanup of the rest of the site. By March, Scioto Township, also in Pike County, purchased its own air quality monitor.
While Piketon’s air quality monitor should be set up within the next month, a separate analysis is already raising alarm bells. The Zahn’s Corner Middle School, which sits barely a 10-minute drive away from the plant, closed on May 13 after university researchers detected enriched uranium inside the building, and traces of neptunium appeared in readings from an air quality monitor right outside the school. While the DOE believes everything’s fine, the Pike County General Health District has been calling for the department to halt work while it investigates the matter. Townspeople worry this contamination is a direct result of recent activity at the plant.
All of this highlights deep public distrust over the nuclear facility’s cleanup plan. And after reviewing thousands of pages of documents—including independent studies, the project’s record of decision, and the remedial investigation and feasibility studies that went into writing it—to understand the risks, it’s clear the public isn’t worried for nothing.
Here’s the thing: Nothing is technically illegal about the landfill. The DOE, though the polluter, is taking the lead on cleaning up the facility, and the Ohio EPA supports its plan. Whether their decision is morally right given local opposition is another matter. But this is what often happens when a corporation or governmental entity needs to dispose of toxic waste: It gets left in an overlooked town no one’s heard of.
Piketon existed long before the Portsmouth facility did. The village was established in 1846 and has, largely, been a farming and logging community ever since, local county historian Jim Henry told Earther.
The Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant—locally known as the A-Plant (for Atomic Plant)—was the town’s first real industry. During the Cold War, the United States was in need of weapons of mass destruction, and these weapons required enriched uranium. Beginning in the early 1940s, the DOE started separating isotopes of uranium to isolate uranium-235, the one used to build nukes. Facilities like the A-Plant were tasked with doing the separation.
Before the A-Plant, residents had to leave the boundaries of Piketon if they wanted an industrial job, so they were glad to see it arrive. Those whom I spoke with made it sound like it gave the town a sense of patriotism.
What they, and everyone really, didn’t understand at the outset of the Cold War was the lasting impacts uranium enrichment could have. Sure, scientists understood radioactive material could cause cancer, but they thought that it’d take a lot of radiation, explained Edwin Lyman, a senior scientist and acting director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Nuclear Safety Project. Now, we know any exposure poses a risk.
May 6, 2019 -By Aaron Rueben in Mother Jones Magazine. Editor’s Note: Valley Watch has long observed a wide variety of issues pertaining to health and the environment and as a result have worked tirelessly to strengthen air pollution regulations that impact the Tri-State area.
A few years ago I stood in a cramped trailer beside the busy 110 freeway in Los Angeles as researchers at the University of Southern California gathered soot thrown off by vehicles pounding by just a few yards from their instruments, which rattled whenever a heavy truck passed. I was there to learn about how scientists were beginning to link air pollution—from power plants, motor vehicles, forest fires, you name it—to one of the least understood and most frightening of illnesses: dementia.“I have no hesitation whatsoever to say that air pollution causes dementia,” said one leading researcher.A
At that time, as I reported in Mother Jones, the research implicating air pollution as one factor that can contribute to dementia was alarming, consistent, and, ultimately, “suggestive.” Since then scientists have published a wave of studies that reveal that air pollution is much worse for us than we had previously imagined. The evidence is so compelling, in fact, that many leading researchers now believe it’s conclusive. “I have no hesitation whatsoever to say that air pollution causes dementia,” says Caleb Finch, gerontologist and the leader of USC’s Air Pollution and Brain Disease research network, which has completed many of these new studies. In terms of its effects on our health and welfare, Finch says, “air pollution is just as bad as cigarette smoke.” This evidence arrives alongside the alarming news that air quality is actually worsening for many cities in the United States, while the Trump Administration continues its effort to delay or roll-back environmental safeguards.
What makes Finch—and the half dozen other researchers I talked to—so sure? Of all the new research, three studies in particular paint a stark picture of the extent to which the quality of our air can determine whether we will age with our minds intact. In one from 2018, researchers followed 130,000 older adults living in London for several years. Those exposed to higher levels of air pollutants, particularly nitrogen dioxide and fine particulate matter released by fossil fuel combustion, were significantly more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease—the most common kind of dementia—than their otherwise demographically matched peers. In total, Londoners exposed to the highest levels of air pollution were about one and a half times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s across the study period than their neighbors exposed to the lowest levels—a replication of previous findings from Taiwan, where air pollution levels are much higher.
Another, a 2017 study published in the Lancet, followed all adults living in Ontario (roughly 6 and a half million people) for over a decade and found that those who lived closer to major high-traffic roads were significantly more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease across the study period regardless of their health at baseline or socioeconomic status. Both of these studies estimated that around 6 to 7 percent of all dementia cases in their samples could be attributed to air pollution exposures.
Those studies from Canada and the UK are certainly intriguing. But the most compelling, and least reported on, study comes from the United States. It was also, incidentally, inspired by our previous reporting.
Following our early report on the link between air pollution and dementia, three economists at Arizona State University—Kelly Bishop, Nicolai Kuminoff, and Jonathan Ketcham—decided to pursue a large-scale investigation of the issue. “We found the Mother Jones article compelling,” Ketcham says. “It was informative about the plausible pathways and the need for more rigorous studies that could test causality.”
Ultimately, Bishop, Kuminoff, and Ketcham decided to link EPA air quality data to fifteen years of Medicare records for 6.9 million Americans over the age of 65. Rather than simply ask if Americans exposed to more air pollution developed dementia at higher rates, the team identified a quasi-natural experiment that arbitrarily separated Americans into higher and lower air pollution exposure groups. In 2005, the US Environmental Protection Agency targeted 132 counties in 21 states for increased regulation because they were found to be in violation of new air quality standards for fine particulate matter pollution. Residents of those counties consequently saw their air quality improve at a faster rate than their demographically matched peers living in other counties who, initially, had equal exposures but lived in counties with pollution levels that just barely fell below the new air quality standards.
This quirk of different standards across the country allowed the researchers to ask if a manipulated decrease in air pollution exposure actually led to fewer cases of dementia, from Alzheimer’s or other dementing diseases, like strokes. This overcame a significant limitation of the other existing studies, which could only compare differences in exposure and disease arising “naturally” among people who lived in different places rather than by a planned intervention. “If people who have lower levels of education, who are less wealthy, and who are less healthy for reasons that we can’t observe end up living in more polluted areas,” says Ketcham, “it’s difficult to say which of those factors could have led to disease.”All told, a lead study author says, enforcing the EPA’s stricter air quality standard in 2005 likely resulted in 140,000 fewer people living with dementia by 2014.
As they reported in the National Bureau of Economic Research last year, Bishop, Kuminoff, and Ketcham determined that air pollution could indeed cause dementia, specifically Alzheimer’s dementia. In counties that had to quickly comply with the new air quality standards, older people developed Alzheimer’s at lower rates than their peers in counties where the new rules didn’t apply. Annual exposure to an average of one more microgram of fine particle pollution per cubic meter of air (an amount well within the range of difference you could see if you moved from a clean neighborhood to a more polluted neighborhood) raised the typical US elder’s risk of dementia as if they had aged 2.7 additional years. The authors estimated that the size of this elevated risk approached that of other well-known dementia drivers, including hypertension and heart disease.
Clean energy is projected to surpass coal this month for the first time ever.
In 2010, 45 percent of total power generation came from coal.
By 2018, that percentage tumbled to just 27 percent and the trend is expected to continue, analysts say.
The consumption of renewable energy is projected to generate more electricity than coal this month for the first time ever, suggesting the United States is reaching a tipping point for clean energy sources, a recent report from by the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) says.
Data published this month by the Energy Information Administration (EIA) Short-Term Energy Outlook estimates renewable energy will generate 2,322 and 2,271 thousand megawatt hours per day in April and May, respectfully. This compares with coal’s expected 1,997 and 2,239 thousand megawatt hours per day for the same two months.
The IEEFA report notes that seasonal considerations like a higher demand for hydro power in spring and coal plants being taken offline during low demand periods contribute to these figures.
This isn’t the first time that coal has been passed by a competitor.
Natural gas surpassed coal for the first time in 2015 as the largest producer of electricity, again primarily as a result of seasonal considerations, the report noted.
Since then, the consumption of natural gas has continued to grow.
In 2015, coal and natural gas each accounted for 33 percent of the electricity market. By 2018, a gap began to widen with natural gas’s share rising to 35 percent while coal’s dropped to 27 percent. The gap is projected to widen even further in the coming years.
Now, wind and solar are joining natural gas in pressuring the struggling coal sector, which has seen a 39-year low in consumption this year.
Part of the problem is the maintenance of coal power plants, which is very expensive and drives up power costs. To combat rising costs for both the companies and their consumers, many companies are investing in clean sources like solar and wind as they become cheaper.
Coal’s decline has been rapid. In 2010, 45 percent of total power generation came from coal. By 2018, that percentage tumbled to just 27 percent. Projections say coal will continue to drop to an estimated 24 percent by 2020.
“Five years ago this never would have been close to happening,” Dennis Wamstead, research analyst at IEEFA, told CNN Business. “The transition that’s going on in the electric sector in the United States has been phenomenal.”
It could take some time before renewable energy permanently surpasses coal on an annual basis. It wasn’t until 2016 that natural gas surpassed coal for good, becoming the United State’s No. 1 power source.
Officials involved with the proposal of locating Riverview Energy’s direct coal hydrogenation plant on the north side of Dale are considering options for discharge of the plant’s wastewater, and Huntingburg has been included in the conversation.
Huntingburg Mayor Denny Spinner said any conversation has been “very informal,” however, he was told that if the plant goes in, the company will be looking for places to accept the water discharge.
“They asked if water resources were available, would Huntingburg be interested? I said we’d be interested,” Spinner said.
He added: “As mayor, I responded by saying we would like to be a part of that conversation, because I believe it’s in the city’s best interest to be informed of all the potential effects such a project should have on our city if it is approved.”
Huntingburg is in the midst of planned water upgrades, and Spinner said the city is “always looking” for other water resources.
However, he said there has been no proposal brought by Riverview Energy or any other officials involved with the proposed Dale project.
“Should there be any proposal, it would be thoroughly studied by the city [and] our water department to determine what’s in the best interest of the city,” Spinner said. “If it has any merit at all, it would go through the full review process from our utility board.”
Riverview Energy has proposed a $2.5 billion direct coal hydrogenation plant — also referred to as a coal-to-diesel plant — to be located on more than 500 acres of newly-annexed land on the north side of Dale.
According to the company, “direct coal-hydrogenation is a unique clean-coal technology that uses pressure and hydrogen to convert coal into ultra-low diesel fuel.”
It would convert 1.6 million tons of coal, and produce 4.8 million barrels of clean diesel and 2.5 million barrels of Naphtha each year.
Riverview Energy has stressed the process doesn’t burn or gasify coal.
In its air permit application to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, Riverview Energy proposed its water supply to come via pipeline from the Ohio River. It also proposed that the plant’s processed wastewater leave the same way, once treated, back to the Ohio River
John Blair, president of the environmental group Valley Watch and an active member of the Spencer County Citizens for Quality of Life group opposed to Riverview Energy’s project, heard about Huntingburg being approached for Riverview’s water when someone gave him a recording of a telephone conversation Spinner had about it with the Indiana Economic Development Corporation. Blair is worried about the contaminants that could be in the discharge water.
“The whole idea of taking refinery wastewater and putting it in a drinking water lake … is preposterous to me,” he said. “I don’t even know why they’d come up with that idea.”
In the recording, Spinner is heard asking questions about the water, such as: What is the state of the water when we receive it? Would there be a cost for us to accept it? Can our water facility handle more water? Are we only part of the solution?”
The representative with the Indiana Economic Development corporation didn’t have any answers for him.